Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Catholicity and the New Topographics III

(Grain Elevators, 1977 - Frank Gohlke)

I want to set up a little art historical context for the New Topographics since it is vital to their understanding and how I will ultimately address them.

It is widely commented that the New Topographics were reacting against Ansel Adams’ F/64 group which drew its name from the aperture of the large format cameras used by Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston and others of the group to capture sharpness in both the fore and background. Beaumont Newhall, the photography historian, notes that the F/64 group emerged as a later movement within straight photography as a reaction against the sentimentality of pictorialism.[1] The early straight photographers picked up as their slogan “form follows function” so that their photographs would actually look like photography. This was done in response, as noted above, to pictorialism which “forced photography to emulate the surface textures of pictures made by other media.”[2] What emerges is a new sort of objectivity and realism through a “hands-off” approach. Edward Weston wrote, “the camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself…the approach to photography is through realism.”[3]

Kelly Dennis suggests that the work of Weston and Adams’ images of unspoiled wilderness have often served utopian ends for Western myths and ideology.[4] This idea of the American Eden is prevalent in responses the F/64’s work. Chris Burnett’s recent paper at the College Art Association draws upon the work of Louis Marin and the contradictions of utopia in human imagination in Utopics: Spatial Play[5] (first published in 1973, just two years before the New Topographics exhibit). Burnett’s term, “degraded utopia” emphasizes the contradictions of “everyday scenes coexist[ing] with simulated landscapes…[to] reveal their mutual utopian destiny as both a ‘good’ and ‘no’ place.”[6]

[1] Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography (New York, Bullfinch Press, 1982), 192.
[2] Newhall, 167.
[3] Quoted by Newhall, p187-88.
[4] Kelly Dennis, Landscape and the West: Irony and Critique in New Topographic Photography. Paper presented at Forum UNESCO University and Heritage 10th International Seminar, “Cultural Lanscapes in 21st Century” 2005.
[5] Louis Marin, Utopics: Spatial Play (Palgrave Macmillan, 1984).
[6] Chris Burnett, New Topographics Now: Simulated Landscapes and Degraded Utopia, Presented at 2008 College Art Association National Conference.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Long Shadows Of A North Dakota Winter Day

Yesterday was a beautiful day around campus with temperatures in the mid-teens, bright blue skies with the sun casting long shadows over the ground from anything that rises vertically.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Catholicity and the New Topographics II

(Water Towers, 1980 - Bernd and Hilla Becher)

Sheldrake’s first chapter wrestles with complexity and diversity of place which makes it very difficult to pin down in theory and perhaps in practice as well.

Essentially, place “refers not simply to geographical location but to a dialectical relationship between environment and human narrative. Place is space that has the capacity to be remembered and to evoke what is most precious.”[1] Sheldrake is already weeding through common misconceptions of place as simple location as is used in common language today. Secondly, Sheldrake accurately points out the dialectic between the environment and humanity and its reciprocity. Humanity shapes and cultivates its environment which simultaneously impacts its local residents. Sheldrake also leans heavily upon narrative structured remembering and history accounts through Paul Ricouer. A third component of Sheldrake’s theology of place is rooted, to use a metaphor of place, in the evoking of what is precious. What is precious and how does this work? Memory and imagination, formed in the liturgy by the Eucharist will likely play a prominent role in answering these questions.

As I considered the “dialectical” component of Sheldrake’s work, I began to think about Genesis and the creation stories. God offers Adam dominion over creation and not domination. But in our technological age, have we lost the understanding of the “give and take” relationship we have with the environment? Has the earth become another means toward personal and global fulfillment? Another entity that those in power enact said power upon? Do we only recognize the reciprocity in the midst of tragedies such as the tsunami, hurricanes, tornados, and draughts?

So as I am reading Sheldrake’s work again I am continuing to direct my thoughts toward the New Topographics. In the introduction to my paper I’ve written,

“In 1975, William Jenkins, the Assistant Curator of 20th Century Photography at the George Eastman House gallery convened a landmark exhibit titled, “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape.” The ten invited photographers,[2] each with a distinctive approach, shared a common aesthetic through which they worked. By shifting their lenses from the pristine and Edenic West found in the work of Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, they focused a documentary-like objective gaze upon the emerging banality of place under the shifting weight of industry and consumptive patterns. In turn, they ushered in a profound alteration in landscape photography. Despite the absence of humanity from the images, their work speaks prominently of anthropology and the human imprint upon the landscape.”

The subtitle caught my attention today after reading Sheldrake…”Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape.” If you have not seen any of their work, a common feature is the lack of actual humanity. I cannot recall any images of humanity even being in the show. But the human foot/fingerprint is readily present. Here, most prominently is one half of the dialectic; human imprints upon the world. Only, in a few of Robert Adams photographs, are we subtly aware of nature’s push back into human endeavors.

[1] Philip Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred, p.1.
[2] Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd & Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, Henry Wessel, Jr.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Catholicity and the New Topographics

(Holden St. North Adams, Massachusetts, 1974 by Stephen Shore)

Well now that Christmas day has passed and all the preparations that went into it, I feel as if I can finally turn my attention to research and writing the paper for CTS at the end of May. The paper is titled, Re-Viewing Place: Catholicity and the New Topographics which is an attempt to reconcile my studies in art, theology and place into a cohesive proposal. I am thankful that I have made good headway into researching the New Topographics this last semester in my 20th & 21st C. Art History Class. One of the struggles in this project is the relatively little engagement this group has received until a more recent resurgence in interest in the group.

My paper will examine Philip Sheldrake's Spaces for the Sacred as a potential hermeneutical lens, not only for place, but the landscapes of the New Topographics. Sheldrake's lens is one of catholicity formed by the Eucharist. My hope is to explore the implications of his proposal for mission, and to some extent ethics and ecology.

My hope is to fill postings here with my progress and musings over the next few months as I interact with these ideas. I am beginning with a re-reading of Sheldrake's text which I read in 2006 as part of a larger inquiry into sacred space/place.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cavalcade of Bad Nativities

Well its that time of year again. Time for me to send around my annual link to Cavalcade of Bad Nativities. If you've not seen this before, make some room to laugh at the comments and kitsch.

"Is the baby Jesus made from mini marshmallows and those little Andes tingaling mints? And his name shall mean, Snacks Are With Us."

Friday, December 19, 2008

End of the Semester Musings and Re-considering the Source of the Artistic Idea

Ahhh…the first day of Christmas vacation. What a good feeling of completion and anticipation for rest. I cannot believe how quickly the semester has gone by. Yesterday I finished with a final in 20th and 21st Century Art History. The test preparations proved to be formidable with a larger list of artists and disparate movements which are simple more complex than early 20th Century developments. But I am quite sure I passed the test and may have done quite well if my one essay hits the mark.

This break will be a busy one with continuing work at the graduate school offices, research for the paper that was accepted to the College Theology Society annual meetings, and a few artistic projects as well.

I’ve already begun work on one such piece. I’ve been pondering the effects of our digital age upon memory for some time. I have finally broken through to an idea to wrestle that question in a visual manner. I am excited to get one version of it for entering in a few shows coming up this spring. The past week or two has been really productive in terms of conceptual ideas. I am not sure what it is, but I have had 3-4 totally new project ideas, and clearer direction with others.

This is the question that drove me to my master’s thesis wrestling with the source of the creative idea. Where does it come from? Why do certain periods prove to be so prolific in for artists? The second is a variant question but still has relevance to the first. My original thought when entering seminary was to look at the role of the Spirit in the artistic process. Despite writing a thesis and reading for the better part of a year on related subjects, I am just as confused, perhaps more, about the issue than I was then. I have considered returning to that subject again for some blog posts to hopefully generate some discussion among artists. I really want to give a balanced approach to the experience of being an artist, human giftedness and embodiment, and orthodox theology. Most approaches that I have encountered minimize the human too much that there is little difference between the Christian artist and that described by Plato in Timeus. This simply does not work for me or give significant enough emphasis on the human faculties.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rein Vanderhill's Watercolors

This watercolor was done by Rein Vanderhill, my painting professor in college at Northwestern. It was Karina's Christmas gift that I picked up in Iowa last weekend. I had been intending to surprise her but when it didn't fit in our trunk I had to give it to her then.

I love Rein's work. I've never been any good at watercolors and to be able to create a photo-realistic work, with such amazing balance of lights and darks, and depth of field is simply amazing to me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ottawa Photos VII

One of the highlights on the trip was a stop at the Notre Dame Cathedral, (which is across the street from another "house of worship"...the Canadian National Gallery. Again the vaulted and ribbed ceilings with its blue domes and gold stars suggesting the heavens and cosmos which fall under the reign of Christ.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Modernism According to Clement Greenberg

Modernism picks up many of modernity’s philosophical trajectories as its guidance. Hazarding general definition of modernity we see an emphasis on the individual radically suspended in a dualistic and progressively rational, industrialized, urbanized and anti-historical society. Combining these factors with a profound sense of optimism in this new age of self-awareness, coupled with social upheaval produced a strange cocktail of utopian aspirations and existential despair. Cued by modernity, modernism cast off the perceived constraints of tradition, allowing solitary individuals and loosely connected tribes of like-minded others to pursue their personal visions, thus creating a staggering growth of artistic veins and ventures of innovation.[1] This perpetual evolution or revolution of creative discovery becomes one of the traditional (though now often contested)[2] hallmarks of modernism.[3]
For Clement Greenberg the essence of modernity, high art and summation for the artistic task meant a pervasive self-criticism or methodological doubt in order to eliminate that which might be borrowed from another media or previous form.[4] This in turn would secure an authentic or purity of artistic expression, its value and survival. This meant, according to Greenberg, that painting pursue that which belongs primarily to it alone: color, shape and most integrally the two-dimensionality of the surface.
Surface transformation in painting has been at the center of modernism’s developments. The painting surface which once functioned like a transparent window transporting the viewer beyond the image or surface itself[5] in modernism now impedes vision at the surface. It is not a rejection of space but a redefinition of it that is coupled with a progressive simplification and abstraction. Greenberg felt that traditional painting had sought an illusionary three-dimensional space whereas modernist painting reversed this impetus drawing an increased awareness and attention to the canvas surface.[6] The Renaissance tradition of scientific or linear perspective masterly imaged in Raphael’s School of Athens (1510-1511) is radically altered and essentially reversed through a series of artistic evolutions.
This tradition’s early beginnings can be seen in Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’herbe (1863) by altering the scale of the rear bather combined with the shallow modeling the pictoral begins its continued collapse in modernity.[7] Just over a decade later, Monet’s radically tilted landscaped plain Boulevard des Capucines, Paris (1873) brings the depth closer to the surface. Seurat, while maintaining an illusionary depth of space, utilized pointillism to heighten the importance of the surface. Matisse’s work Open Window, Collioure utilized large and complimentary colors next to each other to reverse “the Renaissance notion of the picture as a window…canceling the illusion of deep space.”[8] The Fauves influence of large unmodeled color fields would remain a key component of Matisse’s work as obviously evident in Dance (1910) and The Red Studio (1911).
Braque and Picasso’s cubism draws upon Cezanne’s flat planes inventions thus abstracting their subject and reducing optical penetration to scans of the surface. Within synthetic cubism, both masters heightened interest in the surface by creating collage and papier colle respectively. Cubism attempted to balance “abstraction and illusion,” three-dimensionality condensed into a flat two dimensional surface.[9]
This continued evolution toward abstraction only heightened the importance of the image surface, replacing the significance of content for form of expression and experience. The holistic pouring method of Pollock, the flat color-fields of Newman and Rothko, as well as Reinhardt and Motherwell all brought a pure non-objectivity to coalesce with the surface. For Greenberg, this was the conceptual heart of modernism which was best evidenced in innovations and skepticism of the Abstract Expressionists and their successors who had progressively purged superfluous conventions to arrive at an autonomous and non-figurative art.[10] Thus through the progression of modernism, the optical illusion of looking through the image gave way to a progressively flattened[11] image where optics and surface converge in aesthetic experience.

[1] There is a strong irony within Modernism where it becomes a tradition of no tradition where old traditions were cast off in favor of newly created ones. This seems to suggest the reactionary cycle of the avant-garde.
[2] Pam Meecham and Julie Sheldon, Modern Art: A Critical Introduction (New York: Routledge, 2005), 31.
[3] According to Meecham, originality in modern theory is necessarily conjoined with authenticity and Greenberg’s sense of autonomy (Meecham, 13).
[4] Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting.” In Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology, ed. Francis Frascina and Charles Harrison, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1982), 5.
[5] Sam Hunter, John Jacobus, and Daniel Wheeler, Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Photography (New York: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005), 10.
[6] Gail Day and Chris Riding, “The Critical Terrain of ‘High Modernism’” in Varieties of Modernism, ed. Paul Wood, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 193.
[7] Hunter, 16.
[8] Hunter, 105.
[9] Hunter, 148.
[10] Gaiger, XX-XXI.
[11] Greenberg notes that Modernist painting cannot ever be entirely flat because from the first mark made on the canvas destroys its virtual flatness. Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting.” In Modern Art and Modernism: A Critical Anthology, ed. Francis Frascina and Charles Harrison, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1982), 8.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Great Plains Undergraduate Theology Conference (GPUTC) 2009

I’ve noticed in the recent weeks a good number of searches for the Great Plains Undergraduate Theology Conference landing here. Last year I helped with the marketing and arrangements for Sioux Falls Seminary's part of the conference. I have posted the basic necessary info for this years conference.

GPUTC is a great venue for young scholars to present their work, network, and receive some valuable feedback on their work. Students will have time to interact with other students from regional institutions as well. Over the first 2 years a variety of schools have participated including Augustana College, Briar Cliff Univeristy, College of St. Benedict, Concordia College, Dordt College, Grinnell College, Northwestern College (MN), Mount Marty College, St. John's University, Simpson College, and University of Mary.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to try to answer them or point you on towards Dr. Harrington at Briar Cliff.

Call For Papers
The Great Plains Undergraduate Theology Conference is an annual opportunity for undergraduate scholars to gather and present their innovative and creative work in the fields of Theology and Religious Studies. Students and faculty from the five-state region (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) are invited to participate in the lively, collegial and hospitable 2009 conference hosted this year by Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, and sponsored by Sioux Falls Seminary and Briar Cliff University.

Student presentation proposals are invited from papers in any of the following areas:
Moral Theology and Ethics
Historical Studies in Religion
Comparative Studies
Systematic Theology
Practical and Pastoral Theology

Students from all majors are encouraged to submit their theological and religious studies work. The deadline for presentation proposals is January 30, 2009.

Proposal Guidelines
The proposal itself must include a descriptive title and be no more than one hundred and fifty words long. A good proposal will summarize the argument to be clear and focused language. Presentations must not exceed twenty minutes (i.e. approximately nine pages of double spaced text), and presenters should be prepared to answer questions. Additionally, proposals must indicate what technological support is required for your presentations (such as an Internet connection or audio visual projection equipment). Concordia College may not be able to accommodate all technology requests.

Students must have a faculty sponsor for their proposal. Student should first consult a faculty member at their home institution. Once the proposal is in its final form, the faculty member will forward the proposal (in MS Word as a file attachment) to Dr. Linda S. Harrington (, phone 712.279.5475). Proposals should include the names of the presenter and the sponsor, institution affiliation, and a telephone number and reliable email addresses for both the presenter and the sponsor. The faculty member who sponsors a proposal does not need to attend the conference, but their sponsorship testifies to the merit of the proposal and the seriousness of the presenter. Faculty members are, of course, free to sponsor multiple proposals. The deadline for submitting proposals is January 30, 2009.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ottawa Photos VI

One of the days I spent the entire morning walking an shooting and then met up with Karina and her mother Lydia at the Notre Dame Cathedral for a Eucharist service and then headed out for lunch. These two images were shot at the little lunch spot in Old Ottawa. Outside was a small market where the vendors were forced to cover and uncover their wool hats and gloves every few minutes as a snow shower would pass.

This shot came from the back of a pub. All the chairs from their summer customers outside has been piled up for the winter.

This shot was a few blocks from the cathedral. As I was shooting I was nearly run over by the woman who lives here. She was rather wary of my presence and questioned my intent with taking photos of her stairway.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ottawa IV

I've have moved into crunch time, as are most students. Thus I feel I should apologize for the lack of original written thoughts and relying upon my photography to serve as a posting.

I began the printing of my 20 prints for my Threshold series last night...2 down...18 to go. So far I am adequately pleased with the results. I am printing on an archival matte paper and feel that the images may be better served by a semi-gloss instead. That said, the paper is lovely, and at 3 dollars a sheet it is expensive too.

These picts are from our recent trip to Ottawa and emanate from the tourist side of things. The top image is of course center block and the peace tower. The others are simple silhouettes of other buildings on the hill.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ottawa Photos III

These are two of my favorite images from our recent trip to Ottawa. The first is another shot of the justice building steps. Less formal than the one I posted on Saturday, but still very structured. I love the angles of the railings especially where the rear railing ends centered between the two handrails of the nearest railing. What sets this image apart is the implication of humanity...the shadow bent over the stone as the figure, off the frame ascends towards the doors.

The second shot, taken in color, the grey day and stone produce a nearly full range from white to black. The figure again is set against the geometry and line, as nearly all humanity is in a city. But the
silhouette emerges from the dark to light making this simple nearly monochromatic image come to life.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ottawa Photos II

A few more photos from Ottawa. I love this first one with the plant just peaking into the red color field softening the division between the wall and the door. I liked the circle of the pot and the organics of the tree against the geometry of the door.

This is shot of the steps in front of the justice building in Ottawa. I appreciate this one for its formal qualities of rhythm and repetition again. But to those I added symmetry. I know that many people do not care for such a formal aesthetic but for me I love to see the straight lines.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Rabbi Heschel on the Ineffable

"The ineffable inhabits the magnificent and the common, the grandiose and the tiny facts of reality alike. Some people sense this quality at distant intervals in extraordinary events, in every fold, in every nook; day after day, hour after hour. To them things are bereft of triteness; to them being does not mate with non-sense. They hear the stillness that crowds the world in spite of our noise, in spite of our greed. Slight and simple as things may be--a piece of paper, a morsel of bread, a word, a sigh--they hide and guard a never ending secret: A glimpse of God? Kinship with the spirit of being? An eternal flash of will?

Part company with your preconceived notions, suppress your leaning to reiterate and to know in advance of your seeing, try to see the world for the first time with eyes not dimmed by memory or volition, and you will detect that you and the things that surround you--trees, birds, chairs--are like parallel lines that run close but never meet. Your pretense of being acquainted with the world is quickly abandoned."

Abraham Heschel - from Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ottawa Photos I

One of my favorite shots of the trip. I love the vaulted and ribbed ceilings of the Parliament. I tried several times to get the long empty hallway without one of the hundreds of people touring, protecting, working etc. Finally I did manage to snag a vertical shot with my wide angle.

This is the dome above the Parliament library...the only original structure from the 1916 fire that destroyed the grounds.

This shot is from one of the cross hallways where there was never a clear shot from floor to ceiling. But again I did manage to capture a decent shot of the ribs and vaulted ceilings.

This is a blurry shot off the balcony of Karina's parents apartment in Ottawa. I love the city lights at night and if it hadn't been so cold, I would have spent a little more time outside.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alexey Titarenko pt. II

Yesterday I posted on the work of Titarenko. Below are pieces of a documentary well worth watching on his work. If you have time, take a look.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Monday, November 24, 2008

Alexey Titarenko

In class last week we looked at the wonderful work of Alexey Titarenko. His ghost-like time lapse shots are like a convergence of memory and dream which gives each image a historical feel. Titarenko, working with a medium format, haunts the streets of St. Petersberg to which he has committed his life to photographing. One place. This struck me. How many people commit themselves to living in one place, pursuing one thing for their entire life. In seminary we talked about how it took 5+ years to really impact a congregation. Perhaps it takes a lifetime of commitment to a place to know really know it, understand its beauty, and be able to photograph it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Saul Leiter (again)

A few months ago I had several postings on the work of Saul Leiter. I found this little video of his work and thought I would share it again. Can you get too much of Saul Leiter? Watch again for his foregrounds and windows as impediments, repeated colors, and reflections. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Table by John Kaericher

Below is a print from my printmaking professor, John Kaericher, at Northwestern College. John did his MFA at the University of Iowa at their peak in the 60's working under Mauricio Lasansky. John offered this piece to me as a wedding gift (what a great gift by the way!). Karina and I have been making an effort to purchase work by those we have studied with both professors and fellow students.

I love this piece of John's. Not only because of the Eucharistic subject matter, but the rendering is dark and rich. The more I look at it I recall conversations and his frequent allusions to the work of Alberto Giacometti and Kathe Kollwitz. Can I see their influence upon him in this print? I think particularly the line in Giacometti's paintings might emerge as an influence. Kollwitz is a bit of a stretch. John did mention that some of the figures in the image are friends and family. The image gives a strong insight into his theology as well where the the Lord's Supper is primarily a communal event and not a individualized transaction between self and God.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The True, the Good, and the Beautiful Christian

I ran into this article a while back, and with my appreciation for Stackhouse's work I thought I would repost CT's article.

"The True, the Good, and the Beautiful Christian"
Beauty is making a comeback in science and theology. Will it find its place in the lives of believers?
John G. Stackhouse Jr | January 7 2002, Vol. 46, No. 1
You can find this article on Christianity Today's website.

The very idea of beauty makes many sophisticates cringe nowadays. It seems utterly out of touch with postmodern ambiguity, since the notion of beauty implies absolute standards widely agreed upon that address an objective reality: "That is beautiful." Even the Encyclopaedia Britannica (not renowned for its postmodern skepticism) affirms that "almost anything might be seen as beautiful by someone or from some point of view." Yet, despite the difficulty of defining beauty, the concept nonetheless is making a comeback. And it is doing so in at least two realms we normally do not associate with beauty: theology and science.Roman Catholic author Thomas Dubay discusses these ideas at length in The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet (Ignatius, 1999). Borrowing heavily from theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dubay seeks to awaken his readers to the presence of beauty in the world, especially as seen through the lenses of science and theology.

Dubay notes that many scientists judge a theory at least in part by aesthetic criteria. James Watson, for instance, who helped discover the double helix of DNA, suggested that "a structure this pretty just had to exist." Physicists Werner Heisenberg, Richard Feynman, and Murray Gell-Mann insisted that the elegance of their equations pointed to the truth of their theories. Likewise in theology, Dubay continues, beauty—whether the beauty of the earth, of human artifacts, of saints (as "paragons of virtue"), or of God himself—can move us to grateful recognition that God reveals himself in beauty.

Here the Enlightenment meets Romanticism. We need to be accurate, comprehensive, and logically rigorous to properly perceive the way things are. But we should also pay attention to the aesthetic qualities of both things and the theories that describe them. Since the world itself is beautiful, a beautiful theory that describes it is more likely to be correct. Unfortunately, Dubay does not help us to see exactly how beauty and truth are related. Indeed, he occasionally confuses the objectively beautiful and true with his own tastes and convictions—as when he dispenses with all rock music as ugly, or when he champions papal supremacy as the beautiful center of beautiful ecclesiastical unity.

Dubay's strength lies in celebrating beauty, and he joyfully catalogues examples from the natural world and from the lives of the saints. He turns ultimately to the beauty of God and divine things, and concludes his long meditation in an unembarrassed "Afterglow" (as he names his last chapter). We would do well to follow him in such a doxological tour of the beautiful. Still, Dubay fails to provide the promised apologetic, showing how beauty points beyond itself to its Model and Source.

From Beauty to Social Justice. Harvard professor Elaine Scarry, in her brief On Beauty and Being Just (Princeton University Press, 1999), gives us more to consider. Scarry's unusual project is to show that the sincere and genuine apprehension of beauty helps us become more just. She celebrates beauty for its own sake, to be sure, warning us that "the absence of beauty is a profound form of deprivation." But she goes on to show that beauty can lead us to justice in several ways.

First, beauty displaces the observer from the center of things, even from the center of his own life. One can, of course, merely ingest beauty as a pleasant commodity, chewing on it selfishly. But Scarry maintains that when we encounter beauty, we tend to welcome beauty and give way to it. Thus in consenting to beauty's commanding presence—its "glory," we might say—we displace our self-centeredness. Such a willingness to "step aside" for beauty can displace our egos. It can also dispose us next to displace our egos for others—including the needy.

Second, beauty prompts us both to retain it and to propagate it. We want to remember a beautiful sky, so we paint it. We want to retain the image of a beautiful face, so we photograph it. We want to treasure a beautiful moment, so we write a poem about it. Beauty calls us to extend it, to be generous, to spread the wealth. Again, we might simply propagate beauty for our own satisfaction. But the impulse to multiply beauty instead can prompt us to share with others.

Third, beauty awakens us to pay attention to things and people we tend to ignore. A spectacular waterfall gives us fresh appreciation of even tiny movements of water on a windowpane or on a drinking glass. Likewise, this quality of "distribution" can prompt us to do justice, as the dramatically beautiful reminds us to pay attention to things less obviously beautiful but still worthy of care. Yes, to admire the beauty of a particularly lovely face might cause us to despise all others. Then again, sustained attention to beauty can educate and sensitize our eyes to note the gracefulness of another person's smile, the curve of her neck, the sparkle in his eyes, in ways we had not appreciated before. This person is a human being we notice, and not just an object to be manipulated or an obstacle to be avoided.

Finally, beauty demonstrates symmetry, fitness, proportion, and other harmonies that have clear connections, and not mere analogies, to justice. Thus, we use the same word—fair—to describe someone who is comely and someone who is just. Indeed, Scarry says that beauty calls for justice as a twin seeking its counterpart.
One might wonder if Scarry is a starry-eyed romantic. Many who have a keen aesthetic sense show little moral sense. Doesn't she know about the scandalous lives of artists, from Liszt to Picasso? Has she not seen Amadeus or Pollock?
Scarry knows that beauty does not always lead to justice and that we often manipulate beauty for our own ends—in cynical advertising, pornography, disguise, and so on. She also notes that some scientific theories are so elegant that one can hold onto them too long in the face of conflicting evidence. The idea that the orbits of the planets are all perfect circles, rather than wildly varying ellipses, is a case in point.

What Scarry points out are the often overlooked connections between beauty and justice, and the opportunities to be moved by them. Whether we gratefully receive those opportunities, of course, is up to us. Scarry only occasionally discusses religion, but there is much in this little book to prompt Christian spiritual reflection. For one thing, it reminds us that we typically understand the gods, and our God, not only as powerful, good, wise, and eternal, but also as beautiful. Moreover, God's beauty calls us to worship, the act above all acts that "radically decenters" us (as Scarry says) while yet giving us transports of delight. Indeed, all of what Scarry says about beauty can be said superlatively about God.
The Good, the True, and the Evangelical.

Evangelicals already prize truth and goodness. Our tradition emphasizes honesty and charity. We practice doctrinal fidelity, straightforward evangelism, and plainspoken preaching. We are to love our neighbors, care for the poor, educate the ignorant, and give medicine to the ill—as well as live moral lives. These are the ideals we aspire to. Thus church buildings of evangelicals tend toward the utilitarian; we try to make the most of the space and furnishings for multiple uses. Few congregations make beautiful architecture and furnishings a priority. Indeed, we tend to be suspicious of anything grand or ornate, or of fine craftsmanship that draws attention to itself. But why? Perhaps it is because of our prior commitment to truth and goodness. We may feel that spending attention and money on beauty would obscure the clear lines of truth and goodness. Perhaps we feel in our bones something of the Puritans' suspicion of the distracting and obfuscating elaborations of the Roman Church.

Many of us lack even an adequate vocabulary by which to make beauty part of our shared life. For every hymn or contemporary song that celebrates beauty, whether "For the Beauty of the Earth" or "O Lord, You're Beautiful," there are ten that celebrate God's truthfulness, power, and holiness. (Ironically, evangelicalism's love of music, and therefore its genuine love of this expression of beauty, shines through the hymns and songs that praise quite different attributes of God.)
How much of this evangelical ambivalence is defensible, especially in the light of God's own beauty and the beauty of his Earth? Scripture recognizes beauty from beginning to end—from the opening hymns that celebrate God's goodness in creation, through its matchless Psalms, to the vision of the New Jerusalem as a splendid architectural wonder.

We evangelicals often practice a "war-time ethic," in which we sacrifice things that would be good in peacetime but seem inappropriate in a time of crisis. There's no point, we believe, in rearranging the flowers sliding off tables as the Titanic slopes down. Why "prettify" a church when the money could be spent on evangelism or relief for the poor? Yet Jesus confronted this sort of situation and praised the extravagant offering of expensive perfume as perfectly appropriate (John 12). Do we yet know how to integrate this teaching with our other gospel priorities of truth-telling and need-meeting? The connection, I believe, lies here: Beauty is part of Jesus' kingdom. In brief, we should give proper place to beauty—by creating and enjoying it, even writing a theology of it—as an integral part of the "war effort." Beauty is not mere ornamentation that we dutifully defer until the coming of the New Jerusalem. It is an essential part of our gospel, which must be manifest now as we bear witness to kingdom life. Beyond what Dubay and Scarry suggest, this is the true linkage of truth, goodness, and beauty: the full-orbed shalom of the kingdom of God.
Therefore, if we neglect beauty in our homes, in our churches, and in the education of our children, we will be cultivating, and propagating, a deficient religion: the heresy of an un-beautiful Christianity. To preach, and live, the whole counsel of God, including the beautiful—this is the best apologetic we can offer.

John Stackhouse Jr. is the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College, and editor of No Other Gods Before Me? Evangelicals Encounter the World's Religions (Baker, 2001).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Call For Papers - Paper Proposals

I have been working on two paper proposals for spring conferences: the regional American Academy of Religion and College Theology Society. Both have sections on Theology and the Arts. If you are a follower of my blog I have been working on ideas of the New Topographics group and their relevance for today. This project I am proposing will bring their work into conversation with my work on sacred space/place. I think it will be a fascinating and fruitful study if it gets accepted.

The Calls For Papers -
AAR (Upper Midwest Region): "Religion, Art, and Culture
Submissions are welcome on all topics that examine the relationships between religion and cultural ideas, including, but not limited to, music, literature, and all forms of art, as well as the ways in which religion shapes and is shaped by culture."

CTS: "This section welcomes all papers examining religious art (meaning either the visual or performing arts) or religious literature. We are especially interested in papers that relate religious art and literature to the conference theme "God, Grace, and Creation." Particular subtopics of interest include artistic or literary depictions of God and God's redemptive activity. In addition, as part of a proposed joint session with the Theology, Ecology and Natural Science section, we are also soliciting proposals treating the subject of nature and the environment in fiction with religious themes."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Facebook of Genesis

Saw this on Facebook and thought it was funny and should be shared. Find the original here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pith of the Apocalypse

My New Testament Professor from seminary, Paul Rainbow, has recently published a new commentary on Revelations entitled The Pith of the Apocalypse: Essential Message and Principles For Interpretation.

From the Sioux Falls Seminary Website...
Focusing on the prophetic summons to the church in the book of Revelation, Pith was written to help interpreters see more clearly the text's message to serve God and Christ faithfully in the midst of a pagan society that exalts power, wealth, and pleasure and to revisit the text with enhanced confidence and understanding.

According to Rainbow, his aspirations for The Pith of the Apocalypse were "to open up the book to the bewildered by explaining some generally accepted principles of interpretation that any thoughtful person can use to penetrate its message. The present study is intended for practicing clergy and theological students; for questing lay leaders who want an approach informed by recent scholarship; even, in places, for scholars prying into unsolved problems."

Monday, November 10, 2008

David Hilliard

The other day, one of the undergrads introduced me to the work of David Hilliard. I was immediately captivated by his images. He generally works in diptychs or triptychs of individual images with negative space allowed between. He makes no effort to apply these images to a seamless reality or panoramic, but allows for variation in time and angle to highlight the pervasive physical and emotional distances imaged in the pieces. Not only do many of the images stand on their own, together they have a wonderful narrative and psychological quality. Take a look at these few images but go to his site as well to see many more.

Below is Hilliard's artist statement from his website.

"For years I have been actively documenting my life and the lives of those around me, recording events and attempting to create order in a sometimes chaotic world. While my photographs focus on the personal, the familiar and the simply ordinary, the work strikes a balance between autobiography and fiction. Within the photographs physical distance is often manipulated to represent emotional distance. The casual glances people share can take on a deeper significance, and what initially appears subjective and intimate is quite often a commentary on the larger contours of life.

For me, the construction of panoramic photographs, comprised of various single images, acts as a visual language. Focal planes shift, panel by panel. This sequencing of photographs and shifting of focal planes allows me the luxury of guiding the viewer across the photograph, directing their eye; an effect which could not be achieved through a single image.

I continually aspire to represent the spaces we inhabit, relationships we create, and the objects with which we surround ourselves. I hope the messages the photographs deliver speak to the personal as well as the universal experience. I find the enduring power and the sheer ability of a photograph to express a thought, a moment, or an idea, to be the most powerful expression of myself, both as an artist, and as an individual."

Friday, November 7, 2008

A New Arrival

So Tuesday was a special day. A bundle of sheer joy was delivered to our cozy little apartment by the UPS new camera lenses. I have debated, studied, debated more, lusted, gave up, and finally indulged in the wonder that is L-series glass. I decided on the Canon 24-105mm L series and the Canon 50mm 1.4. The latter of the two offers an L series in a 1.2 but the price jumps about 800$. Not worth it for now. Both get great reviews which makes me all the more anxious to get out to shoot...but this excitement is tied to frustration...its raining with predictions of snow tonight. This weather shouldnt last long should it?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Greg Laswell

A while back I posted another Greg Laswell video. I just love his work so I decided to post another. Enjoy. And yes, that is the Iowa native Elijah Woods or better known as Frodo.

Adjunct Faculty

I was just browsing through Sioux Falls Seminary's new website, looking at the faculty info and the adjunct faculty info and found myself listed there...kinda fun. Hopefully they will ask me back again soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Non Voting as Viable Option for the Christian

Ok so I just responded to a few posts from yesterday and said I couldn't find Mark Nolls reasons for not voting in the the 2004 election...well I did after all find it.

Another great article that suggests some other theological and pastoral concerns is Mark Van Steenwyk's

Scott Lenger's Blog has links to a lot of others with similar concerns. Well worth checking out.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reflections of a Non-Voter on the Eve of Another Election

4 years ago I was deeply conflicted about voting or not voting...not that this has readily been resolved in my heart...but it did produce a few interesting reflections in my journal from that time. These are not in anyway conclusive thoughts but a wondering...perhaps to find a more decisively dicipled identity not tied to political and/or national ideology.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5.43-44)

Saturday I passed a sign along the road that read, "God bless America." Sarcastically I asked my passenger, "and the Iraqis too?"

This sarcastic comment began to raise so many questions… Can a good patriotic American uphold loyalties to both God and country? Which takes precedence? What are the limits of each? Should a Christian support war? These are questions that we as Christians need to be asking ourselves. Though I’ve really found no concrete answers, I will share my leanings.

Too often, American Christians confuse their loyalty to Christ with that of the State. I wonder, are Christianity and patriotism reconcilable? Certainly our commitment to Christ must certainly rise above patriotic notions. And yet, why do they so often seem to be interwoven. To do so, do we risk confusing America with God’s chosen people of Israel? If we believe God to be the creator and lover of all peoples, then patriotic or nationalistic loyalties do not seem be tied to God’s purposes. Patriotism is a division of our allegiance that would seem to pit one nation of brothers and sisters against another.

Luke 16.13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Exodus 20.1-6 The God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, our of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…

Essentially anything that takes our attention and desires from God is an idol. God is jealous for our affections.

1 Corinthians 8.5-6 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as in fact there are many gods and many lords – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

Ephesians 4.4-6 The is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Romans 3.3a God is one…

Monotheism is not about numbers, but about our exclusive allegiance.

Peter, when told by the authorities not to speak of Christ, he replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4.19-20). Peter again speaks of the higher calling and commitment to God when he says, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5.29). Submission to the state must end when the Christian conscience is irritated and suppressed. The faithful Christian must oppose submission of the Christian conscience to the State conscience.

If patriotism is love for, and the defense of ones country, then dissent is equally patriotic as war support. Barry Harvey, who teaches at Baylor University, says that Christians are to be sanctified subversants, subverting culture for its own benefit. Dissent is a political subversion for the country’s own benefit by strivings for peace over war. In this sense, dissent protects democracy, which is the goal of patriotism.

Dissent for the Christian means faith is put first in Jesus Christ above any other loyalty. The Christian’s war is fought through prayer on behalf of both nations that the awfulness of war may be ended soon, safety of all troops (including the Iraqis) and for the nations and families of all. It is done in a spirit of humility and submission to our Lord whereby we place our trust in God’s sovereignty and judgment.

[The Lord] shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not life up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Micah 4.3)

One of the key points in this country’s political origins is the “freedom of religion” from a state imposed religion of which we all benefit from. This freedom of religion created the opportunity, in part, the pluralism of denominational forms apart from the state religion. Implicit within the freedom “of” is the freedom “from.” This means that a freedom of religion includes the choice of no religion; hence freedom from religion. This is the heart of our current liberal democracy.

We may aptly apply the same inverse understanding to that of the right to vote. Implicit within is the right not to vote. I may exercise my right to vote or I might not. Furthermore, even non action is still action. A potential voter who chooses not to vote does not become a vacuum, but rather exerts a force in opposition to what or whomever by creating yet another option of protest or abstention. If non-voting does not impact, then why are there so many current movements to attract Christians, single mothers, Gen X and the like by so many public figures (watch MTV…PDiddy’s “Vote or Die” campaign as one example). It is obvious that the silent voice of not voting has impacted the past elections.

Unfortunately the American ideology promotes self-interest as patriotism, and voting is perceived as patriotic and not voting is un-patriotic. Yet, if the current democratic system has been put in place to create the individual option, the choice to not vote is just as patriotic because it follows what the government has set forth. It is also the proper use of the set structures. Criticism of Noll’s position is likely because he is subverting the norm of political and societal structure. But his points and the choice not to vote is still politically valid, and subversively patriotic.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

James Dobson, Fear, and American Politics

Now I have avoided speaking of politics here because...well...there is too much of it going on out there anyway. But, though i am not a voter, I am appalled at some of the stuff that is coming out of the religious right and the republican camp. James Dobson is a prime target especially after this insanity was published. Below are not my thoughts but those of Jim Wallis. I have read the letter and it is utterly disturbing. It ranks up there with the racist republicans caught on video in PA. This is an embarrassment.

James Dobson’s ‘Letter From 2012 in Obama’s America’
by Jim Wallis 10-29-2008
James Dobson, you owe America an apology. The fictional letter released through your Focus on the Family Action organization, titled “Letter From 2012 in Obama’s America”, crosses all lines of decent public discourse. In a time of utter political incivility, it shows the kind of negative Christian leadership that has become so embarrassing to so many of your fellow Christians in America. We are weary of this kind of Christian leadership, and that is why so many are forsaking the Religious Right in this election.

This letter offers nothing but fear. It apocalyptically depicts terrorist attacks in American cities, churches losing their tax exempt status for not allowing gay marriages, pornography pushed in front of our children, doctors and nurses forced to perform abortions, euthanasia as commonplace, inner-city crime gone wild because of lack of gun ownership, home schooling banned, restricted religious speech, liberal censorship shutting down conservative talk shows, Christian publishers forced out of business, Israel nuked, power blackouts because of environmental restrictions, brave Christian resisters jailed by a liberal Supreme court, and finally, good Christian families emigrating to Australia and New Zealand.
It is shocking how thoroughly biblical teachings against slander—misrepresentations that damage another’s reputation—are ignored (Ephesians 4:29-31, Colossians 3:8, Titus 3:2). Such outrageous predictions not only damage your credibility, they slander Barack Obama who, you should remember, is a brother in Christ, and they insult any Christian who might choose to vote for him.

Let me make this clear: Christians will be voting both ways in this election, informed by their good faith, and based on their views of what are the best public policies and direction for America. But in utter disrespect for the prayerful discernment of your fellow Christians, this letter stirs their ugliest fears, appealing to their worst impulses instead of their best.
Fear is the clear motivator in the letter; especially fear that evangelical Christians might vote for Barack Obama. The letter was very revealing when it suggested that “younger Evangelicals” became the “swing vote” that elected Obama and the results were catastrophic.

You make a mistake when you assume that younger Christians don’t care as much as you about the sanctity of life. They do care—very much—but they have a more consistent ethic of life. Both broader and deeper, it is inclusive of abortion, but also of the many other assaults on human life and dignity. For the new generation, poverty, hunger, and disease are also life issues; creation care is a life issue; genocide, torture, the death penalty, and human rights are life issues; war is a life issue. What happens to poor children after they are born is also a life issue.

The America you helped vote into power has lost its moral standing in the world, and even here at home. The America you told Christians to vote for in past elections is now an embarrassment to Christians around the globe, and to the children of your generation of evangelicals. And the vision of America that you still tell Christians to vote for is not the one that many in a new generation of Christians believes expresses their best values and convictions.

Christians should be committed to the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of America, and the church is to live an alternative existence of love and justice, offering a prophetic witness to politics. Elections are full of imperfect choices where we all seek to what is best for the “common good” by applying the values of our faith as best we can.

Dr. Dobson, you of course have the same right as every Christian and every American to vote your own convictions on the issues you most care about, but you have chosen to insult the convictions of millions of other Christians, whose own deeply held faith convictions might motivate them to vote differently than you. This epistle of fear is perhaps the dying gasp of a discredited heterodoxy of conservative religion and conservative politics. But out of that death, a resurrection of biblical politics more faithful to the whole gospel—one that is truly good news—might indeed be coming to life.

Minneapolis Institute of Art

This past weekend Karina and I had the opportunity to visit Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. They have a pretty phenomenal collection. Thursday I had picked up a book about Christian Boltanski and so was surprised to see his work at the museum. From what I understand he was born to a Catholic mother and Jewish father who divorced during the war. He was hidden in the floorboards as an infant to be protected from the Nazi's. His work deals with memory and the Holocaust often appropriating images of Jewish children, adding a single light source and adding some type of base that ends up forming a type of altarpiece. They are haunting and moving.
This is another of my favorite pieces. This large piece by Chuck Close is a photo-realistic painting. The texture, down to the pore, is amazing.

The Institute also had a nice collection of Rauschenberg prints from the 60's and 70's. The lovely Karina Stander in the fore studies the headlines as transferred to these prints.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Threshold Series

These are a few more of the threshold series from this semester. These images are from a local self-storage place.